I was born in St. Louis Missouri in 1976 back in a time when that was a pretty modern sounding year. What was going on in 76? Well, people like Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg weren’t yet zillionaires, other people were doing lots of cocaine and Jimmy Carter was enjoying his brief flirtation with power. I was a squishy puddle of DNA and you were (most likely) not alive.
The first song I remember hearing and understanding was “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” in a shitty orange (!!!) Datsun driven by my babysitter’s boyfriend, Brian. I was pretty small. A little bit of internet recon tells me that song came out in 1972 so it doesn’t help me place how old I was when I heard it, but I recall being super scandalized that they’d just casually use names like “Julio” in a song and sing words that sounded the way people talk (“me and Julio,” instead of “Julio and I,” or just “Julio”…I was an easily shocked dork, even as a very small child) and being pretty excited by the way that Brian seemed to know all the words and enjoyed gleefully singing them as he careened that shitty Datsun all over the end of the 70’s.
The next song I remember hearing was Cecilia, also by Paul Simon and also with Brian, though this time he had the record and he’d put it on in his apartment and was cracking up at the line “I got up to wash my face, when I come back to bed someone’s taken my place.” This one scandalized me as well, even though I only had the most rudimentary idea about wieners and vaginas and all that. I thought the idea that people were having fun with the ideas of sex and being bummed out was absolutely nuts. Again, I don’t know how old I was, but these are super early memories. I couldn’t have been older than 6, and I’d place myself at more like 4.
Quick tangent. When I was 4, I was playing in the park by my house. The word FUCK had been spraypainted on the brick. Some big kid asked me if I knew what that meant. I said ‘no.’ He explained what it was (and that my parents had done that to get me here) and then walked off. I was blown away. I didn’t want to believe that what he’d said was true, but I knew deep down that it made sense. That’s why vaginas were so interesting and penises were so demanding. I asked our downstairs neighbor about the word fuck. She was in 3rd grade. She said “ask your mom.” I never did that, because the neighbor girl’s squeamishness only confirmed everything. When I was like 12, my mom bought me a book called “where did I come from” which contained a bunch of pictures of fat cartoons making tender love to one another, and sperms with smiley faces on them. I spent a long time looking at the boobs on the cartoon women, but I got no real elucidation beyond that out of the volume, as graffiti had already taught me everything I’d ever need to know about sex.
When I was ten, I moved to Chicago from St. Louis. In Chicago, as in St. Louis, I was viewed by my peers as a bit of a nerdy pussy. My positive attributes were that I wrote funny stories in writing class and I was good at drawing. Specifically, I could draw Garfield in just about any situation and I could draw these extremely masculine faces in profile (they were plagiarized from a drawing of a knight in a particularly trippy Sunday morning Bloom County strip, just fyi). Beyond that, I was a pretty classic dweeb. I mean, even those good attributes are pretty dorky, as I look back, but that’s really all I had.
When I was 11, my friend Nick and I found the Dead Milkmen tape Bucky Fellini and just devoured it. It was so weird and funny and scary and out there. It was like Paul Simon, but times a million. We couldn’t believe that such cool music wasn’t on the radio. Nick got a 4 track and we started doing songs together. Nick would play bass and guitar, and I would sing. Our first ever song, recorded when I was about 11 or 12, was called “fish in the sea” and featured the line “In Swaziland, the titties look like prunes.” We weren’t exactly visionaries, but we did start going to indie record stores and getting all sorts of weird music to listen to and try to get inspired by.
Around 12, I got one of my dad’s old army shirts and just started to wear it every day. It said “Kelly” on the pocket and it was way too big and I wore it kind of like a coat. People made fun of me for wearing it every day, but I continued to do it…I was already getting made fun of, so it’s not like things got worse. Suddenly I was just getting made fun of for being dirty instead of being a total fag. It was actually kind of a nice improvement.
Next, I started to get more and more seriously into skateboarding and right around then things kind of switched around for me. Suddenly, without realizing it, I found myself deeply immersed in subculture. It turned out that I already knew about bands like the Dead Milkmen and other ‘underground’ types of bands…and these were the bands in the skateboard magazines, the bands that the skaters listened to, so I kind of hit the ground running there. Also, the army shirt thing was huge because (and I didn’t know it at the time…I just thought it was cool that it had my name on it and was my dad’s) it looked like I’d given a bunch of thought to subverting the idea of how kids are supposed to dress…when I saw the other punks in combat boots, I realized that we were doing similar stuff, but for me, it was all completely accidental. Anyway, suffice it to say, it was pretty great to go from being a total homo who didn’t understand football to a person who kind of knew and enjoyed all the things that a group of people were enjoying. Also, ironically, as soon as I completely stopped giving a fuck about being accepted by the kids on the playground, I became totally accepted, and the fact that I threw like a spaz stopped being a beat-uppable offense.
I’ve just been thinking about this ever since yesterday when someone hit me up about an interview. When I asked if it was gonna be about the new Lawrence Arms record, the journalist (heh) said (among other things) “we want to find out what makes you tick.” At that point, I realized I have no idea what makes me tick. I guess it’s an army shirt, a skateboard, the Dead Milkmen and some Garfield drawings. Those are the items that transformed me from wimpy dweeb into the absolute, number one coolest human being to ever live, ever.
And that’s why you kids should all listen to Paul Simon.